Nothing is neutral. That’s the message in Cassiopeia Berkeley-Agyepong and Simone Ibbett-Brown’s febrile debut play. Shuck ‘n’ Jive explores racism in the theatre industry via a frenetic meta-fictive melee.
The pair, exuberantly played by Olivia Onyehara and Tanisha Spring, share the trials and tribulations of writing a play based on their lives as young, black, mixed-race performers.
This results in an onslaught of wild, witty scenes: reductive casting calls morph auditions into minstrel shows, complete with white gloves and jazz hands; there’s a game show in which the two are quizzed about which microaggressions they accept from white friends; there are recollections of damaging rumours.
Though it starts as an exercise in stream-of-consciousness, and occasionally feel a little saggy, the tension builds palpably through the characters’ growing conflict over how to respond to the realities of racism. Should they call out every negative interaction or stay silent so as not to jeopardise their opportunities?
A blistering crescendo suggests that, for all this piece’s chaos, the writers remain in full control of their story, water pistols and all.
Ranya El Refaey’s set consists of a clinical white stage. It gives the performers the full length of the room to roam around and unpack the play’s ideas. Lakesha Arie-Angelo’s direction is highly physical, keeping Onyehara and Spring in near-constant motion.
This fast-paced hour of smart satire is never less than theatrical and marks out its writers as a creative team with a lot to say – and the skills to say it.